Hollybush Gardens, Warner Yard
11 October – 19 November
Unless you are heading to New York in the coming months, this weekend is the last chance to see this fascinating new work by the US born and Palestinian raised artist Jumana Manna, who is currently having her first major solo show at Moma PS1. Foragers, 2022 centres on the ostensibly idyllic pastoral landscape of the hills of east Jerusalem, the Galilee and Golan Heights. The opening sequence, to a nerve-jangling soundtrack sets the scene with an aerial shot in which one gradually picks out a tiny figure moving through the landscape.
Foragers, 2022, uses a combination of archival documentary footage and restaging of events to examine the absurdities of the criminalisation of foraging for two wild herbs that are central to the diet of Palestinian Arabs: za’atar and ‘akkoub. Israel declared wild za’atar a protected species in 1977, and wild ‘akkoub some 30 years later. The argument was that foragers were uprooting the plants and driving the species to extinction. At roughly the same time as foraging wild za’atar was outlawed, the film explains, Kibbutz farmers began to cultivate it to sell back to the Arabs. There is archival and contemporary footage of interviews with za’atar farmers who make no bones about how lucrative this crop is since “The Arabs like it very much”. “ Coca-Cola is USA, oregano is Italy…za’atar is Israel”
Food could be said to define us. More intimately than almost anything else, the traditional dishes we grew up with connect us to place and history; family and memory. They provoke intense emotion. For centuries, international trade, colonisation and conflict have influenced national cuisines such that food is also a complex metaphor for politics. All this has long been reflected in art: from sumptuous 17th century still life with imported oranges to Jean-François Millet’s great painting, The Gleaners, 1857 in the Musée d’Orsay, and Van Gogh’s many drawings of potato pickers, for example, that are studies of grinding rural poverty as expressed in the relationship to food and land ownership.
Early in the film we watch a middle-aged man being interrogated by the authorities and accused of being caught foraging for za’atar. It establishes the absurdity of the supposed crime – imagine being arrested for blackberrying – and positions the forager as the ancient inhabitant of the land, part of an ecological system: “I am part of nature…nature is me” says Ahmad. We follow another forager, Zeidan Hajib, as he moves through the landscape with his dogs, then returns to the dilapidated stone shed where he lives, on land that was once cultivated by Manna’s grandparents. The ties to the land are palpable.
Later there is a beautiful sequence in which the artist’s mother Aziza visits her three older sisters at home. The women sit at their kitchen table preparing ‘akkoub in companionable conversation, then share a meal all the while discussing Grandma Fatmeh, whose dishes they no longer eat as she cooks her lentils with rice instead of bulgar wheat. A more acute illustration of the way that food is cultural could not be imagined.
The foragers persist and the cat-and-mouse chase with the Israeli Nature Patrol continues. We see many more interrogations of those caught, and fines meted out. Mr Samir arrives at the courthouse for his hearing, the latest in a long series. He is dignified and defiant:
“But this law is shit! Banning us from foraging food…This land isn’t yours! Neither is the plant!…I’ll also be caught in 2050 with my children and grandchildren. I’ll continue the path of my grandparents, that is my truth.”
There is a quietness to the tone of this film that draws the viewer into the complexities of lives we will likely never share. Jumana Manna tells her story from the inside, evoking empathy through revealing a narrative that few will have heard of. This is a moving account very skillfully told.
1–2 Warner Yard, London EC1R 5EY
Opening Times: Wednesday – Saturday, 11:00 – 18:00
Exhibition open until tomorrow